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Jane Austen Dolls House – a labour of love

Every year hundreds of fans come together to The Jane Austen Centre in Bath to celebrate the talent and artistry of Jane Austen, but for those who work at the Centre there can sometimes be occasion to stop and marvel at the incredible works of devotion created by our visitors. An exceptional instance of this came to us this summer in the story of Julie Mountford.

 

Julie Mountford
Julie at the Jane Austen Centre in July 2014

Julie’s husband Keith wrote to us in a heartwarming email this year to describe the predicament of his late wife’s own Austen-inspired ‘amateur’ masterpiece: a Georgian dolls house. As part of her passion and love of all things Georgian, Regency and Jane Austen, Julie crafted this 1.6m tall house over a period of five years. It contains eighteen rooms (five of which are large hallways typical of the Georgian era) and each room has been lovingly filled with tiny furniture of the same period. Keith described how ‘everyone who has ever seen the house has been gobsmacked by its beauty and by Julie’s attention to detail’ and we found ourselves similarly enchanted.

 

Inside Jane Austen Dolls House
Each room is fully furnished with working lights

Sadly Julie passed away in March 2015, having lived with cancer for five years, and her dolls house has been seen only occasionally by friends or family members since then. Keith described how Julie had been a mental health social worker by profession but was also an extremely talented and creative person, writing period novels in her spare time as well as sewing beautiful historical-attired cloth dolls as gifts; one of these has even found a home in our giftshop at the Centre, a place that Julie loved and visited many times in her visits to Bath.

 

Jane Austen Dolls House
The house stands at a magnificent 1.6 metres

Keith generously offered for this magnificent work to be displayed at the Centre so that it might ‘inform, educate and entertain’ as is this is our motto and was also Julie’s passion. Unfortunately, we were unable to give a home to her beautiful Jane Austen Dolls house but we hope that in sharing the story of Julie’s dolls house we can echo Keith’s wish that it serves as an example of ‘what an ordinary person with a passion can design and create as part of their love of all things Austen’.

 

Please visit www.juliemountford.org to learn more about the Julie Montford Dawson Foundation.

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No. 1, Bath Street and Mary Smith

number 1 bath street

On Thursday 8 August 1799, Jane Austen’s aunt, Jane Leigh Perrot, visited the Haberdashery Warehouse at Number 1 Bath Street, near or opposite the King’s Bath. She bought some black lace and was accused of stealing a card of white lace. The subsequent events are well known. (Editor’s note – read more about these events here)

The history of No. 1, Bath Street is interesting and can be reconstructed from the advertisements in the Bath Chronicle. The Bath Improvement Act 1789 provided for a number of improvements to the city, including a communication from the King’s Bath Pump Room to the Hot and Cross Bath Pump Rooms by a new street, with colonnades, through the west side of Stall Street. The first stone of the new street, to be called Bath Street, was laid on 30 March 1791. On the stone there is an inscription in abbreviated Latin which the Bath Chronicle translates as follows: For the honour and dignity of this City, these works were conducted by Commissioners by Parliament appointed for its improvement, 1791. John Horton, Mayor. T Baldwin, Architect.

In April and May 1793 there were advertisements for the sale of:

That Large and Commodious New-built House,
No. 1, BATH STREET
Five rooms upon a floor. It’s being so centrical, and standing between the two Baths, and so near the Pump Room, renders its situation (beyond a doubt) one of the first in this city.
The said house is let, to very responsible tenants, on a running lease, at the yearly rent of £168.

 

In May and July 1795, there are advertisements for Gregory and Co, Milliners, Mantua-makers, Haberdashers, and Glovers, residing at No. 1, BATH STREET, near the King’s Bath. Apparently they had already been trading for some time. Gregory and Co may have included Elizabeth Gregory.

In January 1796, William Smith announced that he had moved from No. 13, to No. 1, Bath Street, and joined his wife, formerly Mary Gregory, the sister of Elizabeth. His advertisements in January and June 1797 end with the words: “An Elegant Suit of Apartments to let, furnished.” No doubt the lack of tenants was one cause of his subsequent financial difficulties. Mrs Smith appears for the first time in an advertisement on 11 May 1797, William Smith for the last time in an advertisement on 16 November 1797.

There is then a gap until 9 August 1798, when Mary Smith announced a sale of stock “at very reduced and low prices, such as cannot fail giving great satisfaction”. After a list of the goods for sale, she added two more paragraphs:

MARY SMITH hopes those friends who have for several years past honoured her with their commands, will continue their encouragement as it shall be her particular care to provide a constant succession of new articles worthy their attention, and her greatest wish to merit by assiduity their favour.   BATH, Aug 4, 1798.”

“All persons who have any legal demands on the estate and effects of Wm SMITH are requested to send their accounts immediately; and those indebted to the said estate are desired to pay the same without further notice to Mr L Lambe, grocer and tea-dealer, Stall Street; Mr Gye, printer, Market Place; or to Mrs Smith, aforesaid, who are duly authorised to receive the same.”

She advertised again on 8 November 1798 and on 28 March and 4 April 1799.

There is then a gap until 3 October 1799. On 1 August Wests, Milliners, announced that they were moving into No. 3, Bath Street. Competition in Bath Street must have been fierce. On 23 October 1800 Wests announced that they were moving to No. 34, Milsom Street, “Millinery Rooms Up-stairs.” And R Arnell, another milliner, who had been at No. 13, Bath Street since 15 December 1796, disappeared after 18 December 1800.

When Mary Smith returned to Bath from Cornwall, she put the following advert in the Bath Chronicle on 3 October 1799:

 

Haberdashery, Fur & Lace Warehouse
No. 1, BATH STREET, BATH.

The Public in general are most respectfully
informed, that the LARGE STOCK of a BANKRUPT
has been just purchased in London for ready
money, and will be disposed of full FORTY per CENT
under the regular prices, at the above Warehouse, usually
carried on in the name of
SMITH;
Consisting of Ribbons, Gloves, etc, etc.

 

A second advert followed on 21 November 1799:

 

Haberdashery, Lace, and Fur Warehouse;
No. 1, BATH STREET.

The Proprietor of the above Business most
respectfully informs her Friends and the Public that
SMITH
is just returned from London, where she has laid in an
entire New Stock of the following Articles for the Winter
Trade, the whole of which she is enabled to tender at
very reduced prices; consisting of
Black, Silver, and Isabella BEAR MUFFS, from 12s. to 5gs.
etc, etc.

 

A third on 6 February 1800:

 

No. 1, BATH STREET.

SMITH respectfully informs her Friends
And the Public, that she has this day commenced
SELLING OFF
THE REMAINDER OF HER WINTER STOCK,
AT VERY REDUCED PRICES,
In order to make room for SPRING GOODS;
Consisting of FURS of every description;

….

WITH A VARIETY OF FANCY ARTICLES TOO
NUMEROUS TO MENTION.
S. begs the LADIES’ particular attention to the
above, as she is determined to dispose of the whole, well
worth the attention of her Friends.

 

And a fourth advert on 10 and 17 April 1800, after the decision of the Taunton Assizes, and in a column next to William Gye’s pamphlet about the trial:

 

No. 1, BATH STREET

CHEAP HABERDASHERY, HOSIERY, LACE,
GLOVE, and FUR WAREHOUSE.

SMITH most respectfully begs leave to
Inform her Friends and the Public, she is recently
returned from London, where she has purchased a
very large and elegant Assortment of FASHIONABLE
FOREIGN and BRITISH BLACK and WHITE
LACES, for TRIMMINGS; LACE CLOAKS and
VEILS, etc. etc.

SMITH assures her friends they may depend on
having every article in the FANCY WAY immediately on
their being introduced in Town, as her connections are
well established with the first Manufacturers in London.
SMITH returns her most grateful thanks to
those numerous friends who have hitherto honoured her
with their favours; and assures them every exertion in her
power shall be made to merit a continuance of the same.

After that there were 11 more advertisements in 1800 and almost one a month until 26 March 1807, making a total of 80 adverts in her name in the period 1798-1807.

Of special interest is the advert on 8 and 15 December 1803:

GREAT BARGAINS!
To be SOLD OFF, at and under Prime Cost,
FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE ESTATE OF
W SMITH, DECEASED,

All the Newly-selected and Valuable STOCK of LACES, etc.
At No. 1, BATH STREET.

N.B. All persons indebted to the above Estate are requested to pay the same into the hands of M SMITH, the Administration, at No. 1, Bath Street; — and all persons to whom the said Estate is indebted, are desired to send in their accounts.

 

The last advert, on 26 March 1807, is as follows: 

SMITH’s
HABERDASHERY and LACE WAREHOUSE,
No. 1, BATH STREET.

M SMITH respectfully offers to her Friends
and the Public the Remaining Part of her
WINTER STOCK,
AT VERY REDUCED PRICES;
(In order to make room for SPRING GOODS;)
Consisting of millinery, etc.

To which (as Great Bargains) she begs the attention of her Friends.

 

Mary Smith

In all previous accounts of the affair Mary Smith has been a shadowy figure. She was the wife of William Smith, milliner and haberdasher, who went bankrupt and absconded. She ran the warehouse briefly herself. In 1799 she went down to Cornwall and never re-appeared. It seems to be assumed that Elizabeth Gregory kept the shop, with Charles Filby, until the trial, after which “the Man is off and the Shop I hear must be ruin’d” (Jane’s letter of 14 April 1800).

The truth is very different. She was clearly a brilliant businesswoman, who ran the warehouse successfully herself from 1798 to 1807, apart from a short period in August 1799. Our information ends on an optimistic note, a sale of the winter stock in order to make room for the spring goods.

That leaves a lot of questions. When she returned to Bath in September 1799, she took the business back in hand, trading in her own name as proprietor. Did she sack Filby? He pretended to be very ill (MacKinnon, 28). That may have been to explain why he was no longer in the shop. Did she sack Elizabeth Gregory, her sister? When Mr Dallas cross-examined her at the trial, she said she knew of an advertisement having been made in Smith’s name, for selling off the stock (Pinchard, 11). That presumably refers to the advertisement of 6 February 1800. It is an odd question to ask a member of staff, who would have been involved in the sale itself, but a reasonable question for someone who was no longer a member of staff. The evidence at the trial is about who was keeping the shop and carrying on the business on 8 August 1799. There is no mention of who was doing so on 29 March 1800.

What did Mary Smith think about the prosecution? Did she simply decide to have nothing to do with it, on the basis that she was not there at the time?

Where was Mary Smith on the day of the trial? Did she stay in Bath, running the shop?

 

This article was written by guest contributor, David Pugsley, who is the Honorary Archivist of the Western Circuit.

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Jane Austen: Family Therapist?

Jane Austen Family Therapist

by Patrice Sarath

Bath High Street. I think Austen would still recognize the place. (photograph by author)

One of the joys of re-reading Jane Austen’s novels is finding something new each time, bringing with it a deeper understanding of her characters and the society in which they live. Although Austen is known as a romance writer (and, I would argue, the inventor of modern romance structure), I find her illustration of family dynamics to be the most appealing aspect of her work, and the reason she has fans around the world, across time and culture. She invites us into her life and times, and we recognize ourselves and our families in her characters.

Continue reading Jane Austen: Family Therapist?

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Things to do in Bath – Jane Austen

Things to do in Bath - Jane Austen wax statue

There are lots of things to do in Bath if you like Jane Austen

 

Jane Austen Waxwork
The Jane Austen waxwork at the Jane Austen Centre

If you are visiting the Georgian City of Bath at any time of year there are lots of ways to get involved in the life of Jane Austen Bath’s most famous resident.

The Jane Austen Centre in Gay Street is the place to go. Open every day. Here you will find the permanent exhibition which tells the story of Jane Austen’s relationship with the city. Staffed by costumed characters, visiting is a great way to get orientated.

Photo of the Jane Austen Centre Tearoom courtesy of Katrina Casey

Upstairs on the 2nd floor is the Regency Tea Room. Delicious meals, cakes, scones and 16 varieties of loose leaf tea are served by costumed staff. A must do whilst in town. If I wondered what to do in Bath for a treat, this is it.

In the summer and school holidays The Jane Austen Centre puts on FREE walking tours. Led by guides in costume this is a fun way to walk around the city finding the places that Jane walked, talked, shopped and loved. Lots of quotes and fun anecdotes.

Jane Austen festival
Promenaders in Bath during the Jane Austen Festival

Do want to get dressed up in Regency costume and maybe promenade or dance at a ball?  What to do in Bath if this takes your fancy? Attend the Jane Austen Regency Summer Ball in June or take part in the 80 or so events at the September Jane Austen Festival – the biggest Regency event in the world!

You can promenade, listen to music, watch theatre, taste authentic food and just have fun with like minded people.

What to do in Bath if you love Jane Austen? There’s plenty.

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Pride and Prejudice, one week to go!

Pride and Prejudice Stage

That’s right, one week to go and Mrs Bennet isn’t the only one struggling with her ‘nerves’! The rest of the cast and I have been working VERY hard over the past few weeks to bring this Austen classic to life and now we are at the final stages. The set is up, the props are being gathered and scripts are being left behind. Continue reading Pride and Prejudice, one week to go!

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Meeting Mr Bennet

"for what do we live"

 

“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbours, and laugh at them in our turn?”

 

Full of wit, humour and lackadaisical nature, Mr Bennet has to be one the most memorable Austen characters of all time.  This week I have been working primarily with Bob (our very own Mr Bennet!) on the last scene between Lizzie and her father. This scene is pretty much the conclusion of the story and moreover it emphasises the close relationship between Mr Bennet and his, lets be honest, favourite daughter.  We blocked the scene several times before adding the smaller, yet significant, details to the section.

Continue reading Meeting Mr Bennet

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Pride and Prejudice Rehearsals Weeks 1-6

Pride and Prejudice rehearsals

 With four proposals, three Regency dances, two confrontations with Lady Catherine and one kiss with Mr Darcy, rehearsals are well under way.

 

It has been 6 weeks since our Pride and Prejudice journey began and oh so much has happened!

Including all of this…

 

Meet the Bennet sisters!

Jane Bennet (Alicia)
Lydia Bennet (Jess)
Kitty Bennet (Rose)
Mary Bennet (Chloe)
(And me!) Lizzie Bennet

 

And when we’re not in regency dress we like to relax with our other favourite cast member, the Athenaeum’s giant bear, aka Mr Darcy’s understudy…

 

With less than 7 weeks to go before our first performance, rehearsals have been in full swing. .We started by blocking the play whilst we had use of the stage, focusing on projection, space and entrances and exits. From here we rehearsed in the Function room three times a week, looking at the closer details of each scene. So far I have been particularly focusing on my more ‘main’ scenes including the famous first proposal from Mr Darcy… ‘You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you’. Johnathon (Mr Darcy) and I have been working closely on this scene to achieve the maximum emotion that is portrayed. It has been challenging and at times tiring (as I’m in every scene!), yet we are all thoroughly enjoying this exciting journey!

We have all been very busy trying to learn lines…

We even had a competition to see who could take a picture with their tote bag in the most interesting place. I believe Sir William Lucas won when he captured this in Venice!

 

And how are the Directors feeling so far…

“We are very happy with the progress made so far. The cast are working very hard to get “off book” and their hard work is beginning to show. Behind the scenes things are coming together nicely. Our producer is getting props organised. We have a soundtrack. We have a little over 6 weeks to go and I am feeling confident about the standard of this production. Tickets sales are coming in as people take advantage of the early bird offer.”

 

 until next time…

Zoe B

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Aunt Jane’s Trial

Jane Leigh Perrot

The Trial of Mrs Jane Leigh Perrot – the Primary Sources

by David Pugsley

Discussions of Aunt Jane’s trial and the question whether she was innocent or guilty are normally based entirely on John Pinchard’s account, conveniently re-printed in MacKinnon’s Grand Larceny (1937), as if there was no other source of information and as if all the witnesses were telling the truth. However, there are other contemporary sources

 

I. The advertisements in the Bath Chronicle and other local newspapers

Jane Leigh Perrot

There is a series of advertisements in the Bath Chronicle for no. 1, Bath Street, near or opposite the King’s Bath: 14 May and 16 July 1795, Gregory & Co; 19 May 1796, 5 and 12 January 1797, W Smith; 11 May 1797, Smith, “Mrs Smith is also just returned with an elegant assortment of Millinery, etc”; 29 June 1797, Smith; 8 November 1798, 28 March and 4 April, 21 November  (“The Proprietor”) 1799, 6 February, 10 and 17 April, and 11 more dates in 1800; 10 dates in 1801; 12 dates in 1802; 10 dates in 1803, plus 8 and 15 December (death of W. Smith); 8 dates in 1804; 9 dates in 1805; 8 dates in 1806, including 18 December (“A vacancy for an apprentice at Christmas”); and 3 dates in 1807, ending on 19 March, all Mrs Smith.

Contrast Elizabeth Gregory’s evidence under cross-examination by Mr Dallas: “Witness said she had been in the shop nearly five years; kept it two years herself; is sister to Mrs Smith, who kept it before; Mr Smith in London 8th August; carried on business on her own account, not for the benefit of Smith and wife” (Pinchard, p. 10). Under further cross-examination: “Mrs Smith was not entitled to more of the profits than witness chose to give her … She bought and sold upon her own account and in her own name; it is customary and advantageous that the old name should be continued on shops, and it was sometimes done for years after a person had given up trade; Smith’s name was continued over the door with this view only” (Pinchard, p. 12).

(Were Elizabeth Gregory and Charles Filby taking advantage of Mrs Smith’s absence in Cornwall to try to make a little money for themselves?) Continue reading Aunt Jane’s Trial